Baking: Chocolate Cake

This is no one’s birthday cake. Still, it is birthday cake.

This is not our favorite birthday cake. Our favorite birthday cake is Angel Food. But this is a good kind of birthday cake too. Why? Because it tastes just like from a box. That’s a compliment, in case you were skeptical. Are you still skeptical? Critical, perhaps? Healthy and judgemental? Then maybe your family didn’t love you enough to make you a heart-shaped chocolate birthday cake from the generic version of a Betty Crocker box every year and you don’t know what a delicious thing that is. You just don’t know. Still, we at Fine Bagels are pretty hardcore about homemade and tentatively share the reservations that the heartless among you also have about boxed cakes. And so, we present you with Martha Stewart’s Devil’s Food Cake. Because sometimes the pinnacle of homemade is a replica indistinguishable from the store-bought, just without the stuff that makes your colon glow-in-the-dark.DSC_0294 (1)


Customer Style: Jean

Jean’s name is not pronounced like our Levi’s. It’s pronounced the French way. We were hoping that his real name was John and that he chose to call himself Jean out of that same painful tick that makes some of us Americans consciously forget ourselves and call eggplant aubergine and, even more offending, zucchini courgette. There was once this girl we met when we lived in Prague who did it all the time. She moved over from Tampa or Long Island or something like that and suddenly, three weeks in, it’s aubergine this and courgette that. This is both unforgiveable and hilarious and provided plenty of opportunities to showcase the snarky pettiness of Fine Bagels. We did this because the more we snarked, the more distanced we saw ourselves from her ilk, as though we hadn’t bastardized our name with an irrelevant accent aigu and an -elle suffix for the entire duration of the seventh grade. But Jean disappointed us.  That’s really his name. Like Jean-Marie Le Pen, but not like Jean Stapleton.DSC_0155 (1)We first noticed Jean because he wasn’t wearing any socks with his Birkenstock Boston clogs, which means that he was poorly raised. We went to him intending to insult his mother, father, Au Pair, or whatever Swiss boarding school had the lion’s share of his upbringing and then offer him a pair of socks. But when we attempted to escalate the situation and segue towards that point, Jean mumbled something about low blood sugar, how he’d almost worn a pair of red socks today, and finding balance. “It’s very physical, isn’t it? Balance.” Clearly this gentleman was not an object in a state of stable equilibrium. So we continued to listen.DSC_0177 (1)After he told us the meaning of several latin prefixes and we disagreed with him about the functionality of homeopathy (Fine Bagels: What about The Clap? Jean: If you love something, set it free), we asked him where he’s from and he answered cryptically. He did tell us that once he lived in Boston for three weeks. We both approved of and believed that until he couldn’t tell us the difference between a New England hot dog bun and everyone else’s hot dog bun. The hot dog bun question when he claimed to have once eaten a lobster roll but went on to provide us with a detailed description of a clam roll. DSC_0137Jean told us many things that made us confused, surely by our own ignorance. He semi-quoted a line to The Door’s song Peace Frog, but changed the last word from “union” to “human.” He said, “Blood is the rose of mysterious human.” He said this many times. DSC_0126

Beyond his fine coat, tie, and choice of footwear, Jean also had a man-bun. We asked him about it. This is what he said:

“It’s a struggle to transcend that which is boyhood and ultimately arrive at that which is manhood, moreover humanhood, and further still humanehood.”

This led to his describing the bun not as a man-bun, but rather as a boy-bun. We asked Jean how old he is and he told us that he’s old enough to party. DSC_0130Jean imitated a cat for a while. He was a wonderful cat. It was both a pleasure and a delight to meet and speak with such a nice, well-dressed, young eccentric like Jean.

Gordan x Fine Bagels: Bagels in Neukolln

DSC_0933Doron and Nir run Gordon, a cafe and record Shop in the Schillerkiez in Neukolln. When we of Fine Bagels have the day off, these are the good people who make us our breakfast. Sometimes we just wake up and think to ourselves, isn’t today a good day to drip tahini and grilled eggplant all over our white denim? Yes. Yes it is.

Doron and Nir built every bit of furniture by hand and the place is all sunlight and wood and gentle brass pipes and much-loved potted plants and attention to detail. That’s all well and good, but maybe the thing that is most striking about the place is the way these boys seem to genuinely love their customers. This is based in an anti-science nonsense theory they call “good energy.” And the boys don’t stop there. They’re also always ready to give you an astrological interpretation of why your life is a mess and since they’re so damn nice, you’ll never have the heart to tell them that astrology is make-believe. Just because there’s an app for something doesn’t make it true. So even though these boys have zero respect for physics and most basic science, they serve you your Barn coffee with a hug, and that trumps all. So we were really happy to start a collaboration with them. bagelpopupThis is what happened. Even though everyone knows Israelis don’t know from bagels, Gordon launched their new permanent bagel menu last weekend with a Tel Aviv meets New York brunch. At Fine Bagels, we’re all about doing things the old-fashioned way. Bagels. Cream Cheese. Lox. We say to ourselves, who needs bagel fusion? But for grilled eggplant, Nir’s homemade schug, and tahini all over a toasted sesame Fine Bagel, you better believe we’ll chill out on our hard-line. This is good stuff.

Doron and Nir are coming over to Fine Bagels in a couple weeks to pop-up their Sabih and Sabih Bagels. Stay posted. DSC_0947All the signs, menus, and cards at Gordon are designed by illustrator and graphic designer Kristina Wedel. Check out more of her work here.DSC_0966

It’s Berlin. You should expect otherwise at 11am?



Doron and Nir also run their own record label, Legotek.


Baking: Rainbow Cookies

This cookie doesn’t know from rainbows. Still, we made it. Why? Because we’re the kind of people whose favorite ice cream flavor is Neapolitan. Because brazen use of food coloring is pretty. Because we were putting off all the bagel making we had to do today. Because we have inherited trauma (that’s a thing) from Helen Fine (Nana) being an early adopter of Weight Watchers. Because they’re a little bit trendy lately. Because this Italian-American pseudo-cookie has long been a staple of Jewish-American bakeries and that’s our jam.

DSC_0122Rainbow cookies are a dense, almond-paste-based layered sponge. They’re pink and green and yellowish-white. They’re old-fashioned but not out-of-date. We didn’t have a recipe on hand because these fall into the category of “store-bought” things. In our house, the only reason to waste money on store-bought things was because it was impossible to make ourselves. (Store-bought: Bisquik, Whisky Sour Powder, and Pinesol. Homemade: Toothpaste, potatoes, and haircuts). Of course, that usually meant that the store-bought thing in question was a waste of money and therefor out of the question, especially when it came to cookies. As far as cookies were concerned, “store-bought” was code for “junk you eat at your father’s house.” Don’t be fooled by our post about Hydrox Cookies.

Looking back, rainbow cookies are definitely the kind of cookie the paying adult would always preface with, “Are you sure you’re going to like that? I don’t think you’re going to like it. It doesn’t have any chocolate chips. I’ll get it for you but you have to eat it.” They were always right and yet we never learned the important lesson that most of those Italian cookies have something nasty like almond or anise extract that we weren’t going to develop a taste for until we hit 30. Well, we’ve hit thirty. So here goes. Rainbow cookies.

Homemade almond paste is easy.

First thing you’re gonna need is almond paste. Almond paste isn’t marzipan. We’re pretty sure you can still mold it into miniature cats and pears and dolphins or stuff it into a Ritter Sport, but the internet swears that a great way to mess up your rainbow cookies is to barge ahead and substitute marzipan. So here’s how you make almond paste if you can’t find any in the store.


Ground almonds 1 1/2 cups

Powdered Sugar 1 1/2 cups

1 egg white

splash of almond extract

Toss that all in a food processor and let it rip for about a minute. Look. You made almond paste.

Now onto the cookies. The recipe we used is from Lidia Bastianich of Lidia’s Italian Kitchen, one of the television shows you could watch without cable on PBS in 1995 while fixating on all the store bought cookies the kids next door were probably eating at that very moment. We summarized it below:


225g almond paste

280g softened butter

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

4 large eggs, separated

1/2 tsp salt

food coloring

apricot jam

250g chopped dark chocolate

DSC_0016In a mixer, beat almond paste with 2/3cup plus 2 tbsp sugar until the mixture is “fine crumbles.” Beat in the softened butter and then egg yolks, one at a time. Now add the two cups of flour and salt and mix well. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites and 2tbsp sugar to stiff peaks and then gently fold into the batter.DSC_0030Separate the batter equally into three bowls. Leave one bowl plain as that will be your yellowish layer. In the other bowls, go to town with the food coloring. Quantity can vary depending on your attraction to artifice. Now spread out the batter thin in three lined pans. Put in a preheated 175c oven for 10 minutes.DSC_0066When the layers are baked and cooled, stack them on top of eachother with a thin layer of apricot jam as glue. Some recipes suggest pressing the top down with a weighted pan for up to 24 hours. This will give you an even denser cookie. When the layers are assembled, melt your chocolate and spread on top. Let this harden and begin slicing your cookies. Keep hot water nearby and a cloth and clean your knife between slices. Now you have rainbow cookies. See? Not cookies. Not rainbows. You just spent the last two hours making striped cake. DSC_0074DSC_0095Or you can just do this.

Post Rainbow Cookie Post feedback from Helen Fine (Nana):

I just saw your thing about rainbow cookies.  Nana Klemens made  rainbow jelly-rolls all the time.  It was her signature kind of thing.  Had a big jelly roll pan and would  split the batter in 3 sections and color  them  and pour it in strips and then slather  on jam and roll it  up so that each  piece had pink, yellow  and green in each slice.   I had forgotten all about it.  She also made what she called onion rolls and you describe as bialy.  They were small rolls with chopped onion in the center depression.

Anyway,  it just brought back a lot of memories…….




Customer Style: Sabrina

It’s one of those drippy slushy snow weeks in Berlin where everyone goes hardcore schlump. German pensioners in matching gortex pant-suits braving an apocalyptic weather pattern only they can see. Young stylish types with cold brown icewater soaking through their purposefully tattered shoes and extraordinarily heavy yet inadequate thrifted coats. Pram-pushing Muttis in soggy beige piles of pilled organic knitwear. In a world such as this, relief is found in a warm cloud of clean pink fluff enclosing a tiny yet striking woman as she eats bagels and faces the elements on adorable terms.DSC_0912

Sabrina is from Graz, Austria but she lives in Berlin now, where she does Fashion Marketing for Zalando. We asked Sabrina if she’s a natural redhead, prepared to be jealous if she answered in the affirmative. She is not. She’s jealous of natural redheads too. Sabrina is a familiar face at Fine Bagels. She comes on Sundays with her boyfriend and gets an everything bagel with hummus and avocado. Her boyfriend gets something with lox. We saw it. That’s not right. How can he kiss her later? She isn’t eating lox. The rule with bagels and lox is either both people have it or no one does. Smooth move, Sabrina’s boyfriend. Probably for the best. Her makeup is impeccable. DSC_0917

Look closely. Those moon boots are sparkly. Since they look like big soft cushions and the name suggests a low-gravity experience, so we asked Sabrina if they are comfortable. No. They’re not.DSC_0916

Sabrina has a fantastic style blog, She blogs about sustainable, fair, and personal fashion. It’s great. Way better than our blog. Like she knows what she’s doing. And someone is taking gorgeous pictures for it. Since it’s not just Gross Weather Week in Berlin but also Fashion Week, check out Sabrina’s Fair Fashion Guide to Berlin Fashion Week 2016.

At first, before we saw her blog, we wondered if she has thoughts on people like us describing her as “adorable” or “tiny” or “super cute.” We’ve been told by adorable, super cute, and tiny friends that that is patronizing. The we behind Fine Bagels mainly only gets called stuff like “really tall” and “broad-shouldered” and can only dream of such delicate descriptors. Ultimately, it was Sabrina herself who chose to charmingly wear twinkly moon boots and a delightful fluffy cotton-candy coat, right? So we decided to stick by our sweet and diminutive adjectives since she’s totally asking for it. Then we saw her blog. Validation.DSC_0888

Rough Beast

The newest issue arrived on our shelves a few months back and we finally had a chance to talk about it with William Stewart, one of its founders. We met William years ago when he came into the shop looking for something by Bellow. That endeared him to us immediately. William is very tall, very polite, very smart, and the kind of person who always remembers your birthday. He’s one of our favorite customers at Fine Bagels. If you’re ever in Princeton, NJ, look him up and he’ll tell you all kinds of wonderful stories about all kinds of wonderful things. DSC_0093

Fine Bagels: William, what is Rough Beast?

William: Rough Beast is a small, independent press operating between Berlin, Brazil, and various parts of the US, mostly the northeast. I edit the project with my friend Joey Horan, and we’ve been putting things out under the Rough Beast name since 2012.

At the start, everything was email – inviting our friends to write with us, mailing out pdfs of the essays – and RB was an excuse to keep in touch with people we knew and thought were thinking about interesting things. Joey and I had just graduated from the same college and moved pretty far away from each other – me to Berlin and Joey to Austin – and we felt a panicked need to hold on to some kind of atmosphere of cultural thinking, some kind of headspace where there were common referents and the person on the other end might ‘get’ us. I was suddenly studying in a place where I understood about 20% of the things being said around and to me, and Joey was working a combination of day and night jobs that didn’t afford the most culturally critical space.  Continue reading